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Comment: Government communication has been dire and chaotic

The travel industry is still in crisis and deserves to be heard and acknowledged, says Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson

Like many of you, I watched industry entrepreneur Clive Jacobs speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast last week. From the reaction on social media, I gather many of you, like me, felt every single word resonate.

The owner of Travel Weekly’s parent company Jacobs Media Group was transparent, articulate and factual, and delivered every point with great conviction. Perhaps our governments could take some pointers from him and all the other leaders in travel who have been ensuring that concise communication has been at the heart of their strategy – for lobbying, employee comms, customer updates or otherwise – for the duration of the pandemic.

In fact, part of me almost feels the onset of communications fatigue. After all, there are only so many words to describe how frustrated, disheartened, disappointed, exasperated, outraged or bewildered we all feel after each government announcement.

Yet, we carry on regardless – because communication is key – whatever the context. That’s crisis management 101, that communication must be at the forefront of any good crisis strategy. I learnt this relatively basic business skill very quickly as I worked my way up through the ranks at Barrhead Travel. Great communication should be instinctive for all leaders. Without it, there is chaos.

Defunct system

The failure of the UK government – and its respective devolved nations – to deliver meaningful communications and conversations with the industry has led us to where we are today: chaotic messaging from ministers; a defunct traffic light system; a misunderstanding of how the industry operates; and being no further forward with a roadmap to reopening travel.

The rest of the world is enjoying the freedoms of travel once more yet the UK travel industry – hailed as one of the best in the world – is paralysed by the government. It isn’t that the government has cut off communications to the industry – it seems it wasn’t really listening or interested in the first place.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve held meetings with MSPs, MPs and fellow business leaders, some of whom are from other sectors. Opposition politicians sympathise while those in government say they’re trying to do more.

Deep frustration

The consensus seems to be that the industries left behind by government – travel, leisure, night-time venues and events – have many frustrations with regards to communication. All are largely private-sector businesses, by the way, and I do wonder if government officials had been as badly impacted with furlough, job losses and pay cuts, perhaps things would be different. In Scotland, there has been so much frustration that the first minister even issued an apology for not giving businesses sufficient notice of levels changing. Actions speak louder than words and I wait in anticipation, alongside the rest of the business community, to see how communication will be improved.

As we know, it’s not just about giving businesses notice – although finding out about changes to travel rules from a source other than mainstream media or the recurring “government leak” would be nice – it is about clear and upfront communication with key stakeholders. Without communication, crisis management is chaotic and disingenuous.

Access to communication methods has never been so easy. With technology connecting people all over the world, there is no excuse for poor communication – particularly when business, economy, livelihoods and jobs literally depend on it. The travel industry is still in crisis and deserves to be heard and acknowledged.

I’m writing this column ahead of the industry’s Day of Action – something that wouldn’t have been needed had the government listened and properly communicated. I have no doubts that the collective communication skills of our industry will ensure that our message is loud and clear. I, for one, will be looking forward to the government’s response.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.